Being Perfect

‘ Ring the bells that can still ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s where the light gets in’.

Leonard Cohen (from the song Anthem on the album The Future 1992 )


According to Transactional Analysis theory there are around seven main ‘drivers’ that underpin efforts to feel OK with oneself. These are: ‘Be Perfect’, ‘Be Strong’, ‘Try Hard’, ‘Please Others/Me’, ‘Hurry Up’, and ‘Work Hard’.These are useful behaviours for a successful lifestyle up to a point. However, unless there is some recognition of balance, these drivers can become the agents of self-persecution as they relentlessly push efforts beyond reasonable limits.

In this way, the road to a personal kind of hell is paved with an initial good intention. In other words, what starts out as a potential help strategy becomes self sabotaging. This can be seen in most neurotic defensive behaviour. All the drivers if overdeveloped can have unwanted consequences.  For example, if a default position of ‘Pleasing Others’ behavior becomes a continuing substitute for self approval, then self esteem, and personal authority can become eroded. This, in turn, can create anxiety which may lead to other dyfunctional behaviours including addictions of various types. An overdeveloped ‘Hurry Up’ driver can lead to impulsive behaviour and ongoing stress. Trying too hard can lead to a kind of mental paralysis, working too hard to burnout, and  being too ‘strong’ can lead to difficulties expressing emotion.The ‘Being Perfect’ driver, if overused can lead to an exhausting perfectionism. Associated with this may be an attitude of rigid expectations of oneself and others about a utopia that cannot be realised.

Cohen’s words from his song ‘Anthem’ (above) express another perspective. That is that wisdom; humility; empathy with others; and self/other acceptance and respect can be derived from our flaws.That is what happens when ‘the light gets in’. Mistakes or difficulties can be a vehicle for relearning and recalibration. Forgiving oneself is a first step to doing things differently. Limitations or inabilities can lead to revisioning other pathways in life. For example, if one is in a field of study or career that is not working, one of the possibilities is to look at the mix of natural ability, values, and goals in life that may lead to a different choice. This allows flexibilty rather than blindly serving the demands of an overblown driver to work harder or try harder etc.

The archetype of the wounded healer underlies the Shamanic tradition. This implies that healing can come from being wounded. Further, that those who have experienced mental wounding of all types and are scarred, but have let ‘the light’ in, can be agents of healing for others.

It is a sober task to distinguish between ‘getting it right’  and ‘getting it right enough’. ‘Being Perfect’ or ‘Being Perfect enough’. This can inform ones judgement of self/others. Setting boundaries and limits is an excellent skill as is administering those parameters with empathic flexibilty and perspective. For example, if an agreement is not kept by somebody,it does not automatically mean they are not to be trusted because they are not perfect. There may be a context that needs to be understood.This can apply to oneself as well. Talking with trusted friends is an excellent way of checking and calibrating reasonable judgement.


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